Beautification work near the Motera stadium. (Express photo by Javed Raja)
IN THE early hours of Tuesday, the White House announced that US President Donald Trump will be coming to India on February 24 for a two-day trip, with wife Melania.
Less than a fortnight to go, their first stop, Ahmedabad, is in a rush to get ready for the visit that has been awaited since 2017, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi first extended an invite.
Around the swanky Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Stadium at Motera, some roads are being laid and others re-carpeted, a coat of paint is being applied to newly installed railings, while even footpaths are getting new paver blocks.
Touted as the largest cricket stadium in the world after a revamp doubled its capacity to 1.10 lakh people, the Motera stadium is set to host an event on the lines of ‘Howdy Modi’, headlined by the PM in Texas in September last year. Sources say the tentative title for the event, likely to be held on February 24 evening, is ‘Kem Chho Mr President’, ‘kem chho’ being howdy’s equivalent in Gujarati.
Earlier in the morning, the Trumps are expected to begin their tour by visiting the Sabarmati Ashram, Gujarat government sources said.
In its statement announcing the visit, the White House noted that Ahmedabad was in Modi’s “home state of Gujarat” and “played such an important role in Mahatma Gandhi’s life and leadership of the Indian Independence movement”.
From Gujarat, the Trumps will travel to New Delhi, where the two sides will hold bilateral talks.
The Gujarati diaspora, mostly from the US, is expected to comprise a large chunk of the invited audience at Motera, like at the Texas event. Members of the Dawoodi Bohra community, who are largely Modi supporters, have also been invited.
Gujarat Wakf Board Chairman Sajjad Hira told The Indian Express, “We have been told by our top leaders to bring the Bohra people in their traditional dress for the Motera event and we have started shortlisting names from Surat, Dahod, Vadodara, Ahmedabad and Rajkot. We will also invite religious leaders from our community.”
Vadodara Municipal Corporation (VMC) and district administration have reportedly been assigned the task of organising up to 16,000 dignitaries. In a video conference, chaired by the Chief Secretary, the administration was asked to identify the dignitaries who could be invited, apart from other guests.
Deputy Commissioner F J Charpot, who is the ‘chief coordinating officer’, said the government will soon make public a private portal via which the invited dignitaries can register themselves, to ease security clearances. Charpot said, “The invitees will include educational institutions, NGOs, businessmen, bankers.”
The road work around the Motera stadium is being done by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC), which is building two new roads and re-carpeting 18, at an estimated cost of Rs 27 crore. Work is also on to ready 13 plots of land within a 2-km radius which can accommodate at least 2,600 buses, 4,700 four-wheelers and 5,000 two-wheelers. “We can add more parking lots if asked to,” an AMC official said.
The Sabarmati Ashram Preservation and Memorial Trust (SAPMT) said Gujarat Tourism Department Secretary Mamta Verma had discussed with them the protocol followed for earlier VIP visits, including the route taken, duration and itinerary. “No official confirmation has been given, however, if President Trump will visit,” said a SAPMT official.
Since Modi took over as PM, several heads of state have visited Ahmedabad as part of their India tour, including Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2014, Japan PM Shinzo Abe in 2017, and Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu in 2018.
— With inputs from Kamaal Saiyed in Surat, Aditi Raja in Vadodara, Parimal Dabhi in Gandhinagar